Re: How To Live In A Simulation

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Tue Mar 20 2001 - 03:02:56 MST

James Higgins wrote:
> However, I believe I have thought of a good way to actually make the
> upload. But I'm certain this group can put some holes into it, so here goes.

Depending on how you frame your assumptions, you get different answers at
this point. Assuming that individual volition holds, it's hard to imagine
all of humanity being moved into VR... not without them being asked
first. And it isn't necessarily true that even the transhumanists would
walk into Diaspora within the first few seconds - there are friends and
relatives who may get left behind, and once you're a transhuman, you may
not be allowed to stick around on persuading people - or rather, the
people on Earth may not want to talk to you.

The last freedom - literally the last, because invariably fatal - is
freedom from the Singularity itself. That doesn't just mean staying
behind on Earth; it means refusal to be exposed to transhumans or to
transhuman ideas. It means continuing, more or less, with your old life.
There are some people who will want that. Transhuman means transhumanly
persuasive... a superintelligence could simply take over a human mind
given realtime bandwidth, maybe even take over a mind using a memetic
proxy (ultra-appealing religions, say). Is Old Earth simply to become the
battleground for people being pushed this way and that by warring radio
messages from Luna? I don't think that's what the Pedestrians of Old
Earth will want. But the implication is that once you're a full-flowered
transhuman, you may not be able to talk to the stay-behinds, even people
who want to talk to you, because then the people who talk to you can't
talk to anyone else. If you want to stick around on Old Earth and see if
you can get your conservative parents to come with you, it means that you
may need to hold off on the transcendence for a while.

I'm not sure how this works out. I used to think it would just be a mass
upload followed by a mass upgrade, but that was on the objective morality
paradigm. In the Sysop Scenario, the dominant force in the universe is
volition, and that creates the possibility of commonsense solutions,
compromises, not the extreme cases that I instinctively feel are more
realistic. In an extreme case, there's some kind of rush and no
milliseconds to waste; all the transhumans vanish instantly and all the
Pedestrians and Undecided stay behind, untouched, possibly even a bit
confused (though hopefully it should be obvious enough what happened). In
a highly extreme case, everyone, including the Pedestrians, vanishes into
the Transcend whether they like it or not. In a compromise solution...
what happens next will be whatever least violates Earth's massed
volitions, including our volitions about how conflicting volitions should
be dealt with, and what is or isn't fair methods of persuasion during the
Transition period.

What do I mean by a "commonsense" solution? I mean one in which
second-order moral imperatives are applied with room for slack, rather
than being absolute. By "second-order", I refer not to basic
Friendliness, but to consequences of Friendliness - for example, the idea
that Old Earth needs to be kept free of coercive transhuman memes, and
thus the idea that transhumans and humans shouldn't interact.

The following scenario is a bit Lothlorien, so I distrust it... but to
continue working out the consequences: The transhumanists don't instantly
become superintelligences - most of them don't, anyway - but they do stop
losing neurons due to aging. Cognitive enhancement proceeds at a very
slow pace, the natural or irreduceable level of improvement that comes
from aging without dying. If a transhumanist wanted to stick around on
Old Earth for a millennium it might get dicey, but the Transition
presumably ends, and Old Earth is handed off exclusively to the
Pedestrians, in five or twenty years rather than a thousand. Meanwhile,
the gently transhuman transhumanists are slowly creeping up the gaussian
curve, but are not yet directly outside it; so by commonsense, slacky
application of the second-order rules, gently transhuman transhumanists
don't pose a contamination threat to the Earth culture the Pedestrians
will inherit. Similarly, the gentle transhumans can't instantly turn into
physical supermen or start casting magical spells; that's probably outside
the range of what the remaining Pedestrians will want to remember in their

Sticking around on Old Earth to persuade your friends doesn't mean
volunteering to die, or even to get hurt, so some degree of physical
invulnerability would appear to be necessary - but then, there's more than
one way to play that. If the remaining Pedestrians are willing to
tolerate legends of invulnerability, then OK, guns don't fire or
whatever. An alternative would be that your body suffers the expected
physical damage but you just rematerialize a few milliseconds later
(presumably out of the line of fire). Obviously, this kind of freedom
implies that a gentle transhuman is also willing to accept that the Sysop
won't let him or her get into fights with the Pedestrians (it's a bit
unfair if they can die permanently and you can't). Eating? Going to the
bathroom? And what happens to the economy when a third of the population
no longer needs a job? The Sysop can stabilize it easily enough, but only
if the Pedestrian volition is to temporarily accept that kind of

The commonsense solution to the child problem is that children can't die
or be hurt (or lose neurons, but they're not losing many anyway) until the
child is old enough to choose freely; Pedestrian parents can try and
persuade the child to become a Pedestrian and die, but the child also gets
exposed to the "techno" point of view (at a human level of persuasiveness,
not a transhuman level). Hopefully very few children will grow up to be
Pedestrians; those that do will have made a genuinely free choice.

To some extent, this is a scenario that I worked out for possible use in
science fiction... it feels too normal and sane to be real, somehow; too
much like self-indulgent fantasy. But perhaps that very self-indulgence
means that the scenario is more likely to happen. It's not SL4... but
maybe Old Earth doesn't want SL4. Maybe Earth wants a commonsense,
flexible, non-strict set of solutions to all the various dilemnas that pop
up during the Transition period. That's the only fundamental reason that
would allow something so Lothlorien, with so much story potential, to

My concern in such matters is to minimize the number of people who stay
behind, but the degree to which potential Pedestrians can be persuaded
depends on what their massed volition says is OK as a means of persuasion.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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